LITTLE ROCK, AR - The active wildfire season is putting additional strain on the already short-handed Arkansas Forestry Commission. The AFC does not have a firm dollar amount for how much this active fire season is costing. It expects those figures later this fall but they told legislators Thursday they need more help.
With the 1400+ acre Yell County fire in Ola still smoldering leaders of the Arkansas Forestry Commission at the capitol Thursday letting legislators know where the state agency stands.
Don McBride is head of fire suppression for AFC. He says long hours, fuel costs, heavy equipment, everything it takes to bring a large fire like Ola under control, takes a toll.
"Our budget is very tight. And as we get into a fire season like this our expenses go up," McBride says.
In addition, AFC lost 13 firefighter positions related to budget mismanagement. The mistake cost longtime state forester John Shannon his job
earlier this year.
"That has put a strain on our field crew and our fire suppression crew and there are positions that we have highlighted that we really feel we need back," McBride says.
The general assembly would have to appropriate money to restore the positions when the regular legislative session begins in January.
State senator Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) says he believes there is strong bipartisan support to make it happen.
“It’s a public safety priority,” Dismang says. “If anything, this fire season is a prime example as to why we need to get those positions back.”
Additional help would provide existing crews a chance to rest, give them a break in these extreme conditions. But that help on the fire frontline will not come anytime soon.
The AFC says an average June sees 491 acres burn statewide. June 2012 saw 4,873 acres burn.
The numbers for July are just as extreme. An average July wildfire season consumes 1300 acres of land. After the Ola fire this week the AFC says that total has exceeded 6000 acres and still burning.